In the beginning

Tue 27th September 2011

GridPP has been very active in supporting many disciplines in the last decade. However, only in the last couple of years has it been collaborating with social science researchers. Now the National e-Infrastructure for Social Simulation (NeISS) project is attempting to develop e-Infrastructure to support their work and GridPP is helping them to get up and running. The work is going well and the team presented it at the UK eScience All Hands Meeting (AHM) in York today.

The aim of NeISS is to provide a service for researchers to do social simulations i.e. modelling different societies and social conditions using computing resources. It is a very broad area of research and improving the access to an e-Infrastructure like a grid would greatly enhance the work done in the area.

The work so far has focused on applications produced by the Generative e-Social Science for Socio-Spatial Simulation (GENeSIS) project. They have developed models that represent every individual person in as a distinct digital entity. For large populations and simulations that work at high spatial and temporal resolutions, the computational demands are beyond the capabilty of local resources. Andy Turner, of Leeds University, is a developer on GENeSIS, and having worked with grid infrastructures before he decided to push for Grid enabling the models. “I have been developing some social simulation models, and in NeISS I am working with Tom to make it easier for others to run these and also so that they run for larger simulations in a more automated way. We are aiming to offer a system that can be used by researchers and those involved in service planning in government and hope that in NeISS we produce results that we could not have produced on a reasonable high spec single desktop machine even if it had been running for years.”

Tom Doherty is based at the University of Glasgow and has been the Grid computing expert that has been working with Andy to Grid enable the models. Tom has found the work challenging but rewarding “I only joined forces with Andy in January and the development has really taken shape. My work has mostly been developing portlets for Grid submission and monitoring, but also getting the VO up and running at Glasgow and using the NGS’ workload management system. Andy’s use case is the perfect opportunity for me to build a complete ecosystem for users. His ideas and requirements basically drive the work forward, as we both agree on solutions and we are constantly learning what the limitations are so that we can plan to scale upwards.”

For the work being presented at the All Hands Meeting the team ran a simulation for a population the size of Leeds for a period of ten years. So far they have only used just over 2,000 CPU hours but this is just really software testing and prototyping, after AHM 2011 they will start work modelling the entire UK population, requiring a 100-fold increase in CPU, storage and data requirements. Andy is quietly confident “Support from GridPP has enabled the NeISS work as we have done it. ScotGrid (as part of GridPP) have provided us with not only the storage resources we wanted to develop and test the models and produce preliminary results, but also expertise and advice so that the solution we are using for data storage will readily scale to larger problem sizes. We think that by the end of the NeISS project next year we will have a system in place that others can use to generate results useful for them. In the mean time, we we need to prove we have the ability to run using a population of the size of the UK and we would like as many GridPP sites to enable our work as possible”.

Andy’s presentation at AHM was in the e-Infrastructure session on Tuesday the 27th starting at 10:45 in RCH248/250 and his slides can be downloaded from here. There is also a video demo of the application, which Tom will be presenting at the demonstration on the Wednesday at 15:30 in RCH005.

If you are interested in enabling the NeISS VO at your site please contact Andy Turner or Thomas Doherty.

More information about the various projects discussed in this article can be found here:
NeISS – http://www.neiss.org.uk/
The GENESIS project – http://www.genesis.ucl.ac.uk/


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